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Why do great tasting products fail to perform on the retailer's shelf?

You need to focus on the “business of food” and not just FOOD!


Why Do Food Entrepreneurs Fail? They are Stuck in the Kitchen!

Why Do Food Entrepreneurs Fail? They are Stuck in the Kitchen!How to avoid failure in the food business Two Critical Steps.

Updated October 01, 2013

Why do you think some products fail even after they've reached the retailers shelf?

Dave Chambliss Vice President at Hautly Distributing

Sometimes great tasting products fail to perform on the retailer's shelf despite promotion activities. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on why some sku"s survive while others do not.

Caroline Starnes

Guava Love Foods

I am not on the shelf, but look forward to feedback and comments. Good discussion topic.

Lorrie Karam

President/ CEO at Karam Food

Could be a few things.......category is too crowded, product is too new or the packaging fails to grab the consumer.

Domenick Celentano

Founder at The Foodpreneur

Hi Dave, your questions is great and we at The Foodpreneur find this to be a major failure point for most food entrepreneur clients. I have written many articles on this subject so my response will be brief even though there are a dozen reasons to answer you question.

Everyone thinks the food business is "all about the food" and don't realize it is the "business of food". Most new products are a hypothesis, based on some sort of value proposition (sorry for the buzz word!) and need to move to the proof of concept phase. If one's hypothesis is the consumer will buy my product because it tastes great… well then… how do they know it tastes great if they never tried it before? Hmmm…

So, the food entrepreneurs journey is from Kitchen, to the Shelf, to the Consumers plate. So Getting on the shelf is a convincing buyer pitch that incorporates the food, merchant issues and marketing.

Getting off the Shelf requires developing Product Positioning first in order to drive all of the brands Mar/Com efforts. The Path to Purchase should be the framework for the marketing plan to get off the shelf since, for the most part, this is how consumers make decisions to buy. How many smaller food businesses even know what the Path to Purchase is? Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Trial and hopefully Repeat Purchase. It is too complex to get into here.

Success in the food business comes from a marketing strategy to support a great tasting product and not developing a great tasting product with the after thought of how to get the consumer to stop, pick it off the shelf, try it and come back. My article Questions To Help You Start Or Grow Your Food Business has insights to this question.

Look forward to other comments.

Reggie Rodgers

Owner, Rodgers' Banana Pudding Sauce

Dave Chambliss

Vice President at Hautly Distributing

To all, excellent comments. We have also found that low or NO inventory on the shelf during promotional periods can be the demise of a product as well. It's important to interview your distributor thoroughly to determine how frequent their sales/merchandising team are in the stores to protect your shelf space and monitor shelf stock. Since your product is expected to perform at regular retail and on promotion, an effective store level distributor presence is paramount. We hear stories about distributor mark ups of 30 to 35% yet they provide little to no measurable service at store level.

Remember, most retailers will give your product one (1) retail selling period to perform. Failure to do so means a discontinue tag could appear below your product. Choose your partners carefully.

Mihir Shah

President at Dishoom Foods, Inc.

Many factors: the product isn't getting high visibility, most consumers are creatures of habit and don't try new products (unless it's launched by LARGE corporations), but #1 the consumer just doesn't know about the product. Also the consumer doesn't shop at the stores where the sku's are stocked.

Michael Thompson

SCORE certified mentor

In my opinion, there are no test markets...only opportunities to establish your product. Select the right store shelf, build awareness, develop re-purchase activity and then use that success story to move to the next right shelf.

Jeremy Smith


Most every food company executive and CEO thinks their company makes the best product in the World. Having the "best" product does not guarantee sucess. Few companies understand their consumers better than Chobani Greek Yogurt and Apple Computer. Does Apple make the best products in the World? Some people might say yes others no but that is not the point. They understand their consumers better than anyone else and this is the difference between success and failure. The Chobani story is very much the same. They entered a market dominated by larger players with advertisign and marketing dollars 100 times larger than them. However they understood the Greek Yogurt Consumer better than any other yogurt company and that is how they won the shelf space war.


Leah Hadad

Owner, Tribes-A-Dozen, LLC

Very interesting to read all the comments. You are all obviously very experienced in what you do. I am very interested to hear what you'd say are the most effective promotional tools available to a food start up to build consumer awareness of a new product on the shelf? Thank you!

Dave Chambliss

Vice President at Hautly Distributing

Focusing on in-store promotional tools AND realizing your products are mixes, I would say that an enticing introductory retail price along with a tasteful shelf talker maybe your best bet. The more trials (getting the product into a consumer mouth) is very important for developing loyalty and thereby repeat customers.


Leah Hadad

Owner, Tribes-A-Dozen, LLC

Thank you, Dave! We are already offering an introductory price. Need to look into the shelf talker. What kind of information makes a shelf talker effective?


Dave Chambliss

Vice President at Hautly Distributing

A product designer once told me that a small shelf talker should have the same feel as your label but may not actually need the brand name. It should however say what the product is and how it will change their life if introduced to their family. This may not be very helpful but a graphic artist that specializes in food labels may shed more light on the subject.

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